I'm a little late to the party, but here is an absurd decorousness in the denunciations -- from the Obama and McCain campaigns and across the liberal blogosphere -- of the current New Yorker cover.
The top-line objection is to accuse the New Yorker of poor taste. In the limited context of campaign discourse this is true. But magazines and other journalistic enterprises would be crazy to buy into the notion that abitrary etiquette of American campaigns (which encourages candidates to lie baldly, and surrogates to spin and smarm and swift-boat, while prohibiting frank talk to a host of issues from race to religion to terror itself), should govern their decisions.
Underneath that are liberals' more practical fears about the cover's impact on Obama's campaign. This line of thinking goes: Obama is so new and different, his image so unformed in the public mind, and U.S. opinion still so anxious on the matter of terrorism, with Democrats perceived as weak -- that the Obama campaign, and we as a nation, just can't handle images like this, because they might be interpreted the wrong way.
Really? No one worries that TNY's readership will take it literally. Fox will show it and chortle, but hey -- it will likely only confuse conservative viewers inclined to think of Obama as a Muslim terrorist dupe. Why are the liberal elites advertising Obama's subversion, mocking it? The image itself is an absurd jumble of terrorist iconography -- Black Power, al Qaeda, flag burning, etc.
Seven years after 9/11, after an onslaught of bad-faith political manipulation over terror, and with the threat of al Qaeda now quite debatable, Americans can certainly handle a little jokey imagery about terrorism and politics. Free expression is a bulwark of American liberalism, part of what makes it what it makes it superior to political philosophies that rigidly enforce what words can be uttered and images can be shown. When liberals start policing the "poor taste" of cartoons so that some people don't get the "wrong idea," it only reinforces the notion that all the fearmongering was effective, and perhaps right -- and also shows how weak and tenuous Democrats fear their position on terrorism remains.
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